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Monday, 19 November 2012

International Day of the Child - is it a time to celebrate or one to grieve?

November 20th is the International Day of the Child.  It celebrates the 1989 signing of the UN Convention of  Rights of the Child Convention document.   The landmark document is an update of a 1959 which updated a 1924 declaration.  It is reassuring to note that children are high on the international list of priorities, but one has to ask how successful we are globally?  And how successful we are within Canada?

Several provinces have children’s advocates.  Arms length individual charged with watching out for the wellbeing of children.   A report from the BC representative for children and youth was just released that touches on a subject in the wake of the Amanda Todd tragic suicide.  Trauma, Turmoil and Tragedy is a report on youth suicide and self-harm. 

Notable were the consistent themes of risk for youth with tragic outcomes.
                      Lack of stable living arrangements – most notably, children in care being subject to multiple moves .
                      Domestic violence – a significant feature in the lives of more than half the youth.
                      Mental health issues – identified in nearly 70 per cent of the youth and compounded by a lack of clarity of services to address these issues .
                      Substance abuse – by family members as well as the youth themselves.
                      Learning disabilities and lack of attachment to school.
                      Significant romantic conflict in the 24-hour period leading to these incidents.

The report further flags the overrepresentation by Aboriginal persons and those that have been involved with social services.

Many youth suicide prevention programs have been based on preparing caregivers such as teachers to grapple with individuals displaying self-harm behaviours.  Assist (Living Works home page) is one of a number of programs available in Canada dependent upon training providers to work with youth at risk of self-harm.  Other programs attempt to build resilience in individuals to reduce thoughts of self-harm or improve confidence to seek help.  Regrettably after all these years and innumerable programs, there remain few evidence based programs that demonstrate a reduction in the outcome of self harm or suicide amongst youth.

The contribution of the BC representative helps flag why current programming is likely not as effective as hoped.  Many of the characteristics are individuals are pre-existing risks that are identifiable and deserve intervention long before the youth become distraught.  Active intervention for those with risk may be a rationale new approach to consider.  The list of possible risks is similar to what one finds for truancy, school drop-out, criminal behaviour, unplanned pregnancy and a host of other socially unacceptable behaviours that can be interpreted as cries for help.

So while we celebrate the International Day of the Child, let us reflect on the innumerable instances where we as a society are failing to provide for the future of our youth. 

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